Public awareness of environmental issues creates demand for eco-friendly products in many industries, including digital printing. When given the option, many customers and brands favor eco-friendly options and initiatives.
However, becoming an eco-friendly print provider is a gray area that encompasses several factors from substrates and ink to waste reduction, recycling, and eco-friendly lighting. Print providers can establish themselves as a “green” option by creating an environmental sustainability plan and promoting it efficiently all while achieving a favorable return on investment (ROI).
Eco-Friendly Print Providers While eco-friendly is a term that the print industry is aware of, actually becoming an eco-friendly business entails several factors.
Most often, it requires two things—environmental responsibility from the company and employee education on greener initiatives. To be considered environmentally responsible, print providers produce products with the environment in mind and work on projects that enable sustainability for the future. Tom Wittenberg, planning and content manager, sign & décor, large format strategy, HP Inc., says this includes using environmentally responsible inks, media, and consumables, in addition to supporting and creating projects related to waste reduction/elimination and reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.
Teaching employees how to be environmentally copious at work and home is also integral. Wittenberg shares, “this can mean helping them practice recycling, install eco-friendly lighting, and use natural products for cleaning and home care.”
With both of these practices in place, print providers can operate with the environment in mind at all stages of business. Allison Kern, senior specialist, CSR & internal engagement, Konica Minolta, shares, “research and development to logistics and distribution, customers reduce their own environmental impact through the use of products, solutions, and know-how.”
Establishing a Plan Print providers can establish a plan for environmental sustainability to stay on track with green initiatives. This involves evaluating the business’ current processes and integrating new tools and certifications.
First, print providers should evaluate the current state of their organization’s environmental impact. Based on those findings, they can then set both ambitious long-term and achievable short-term goals and develop a roadmap or framework to get there, comments Kern.
It’s also beneficial to research what other industry leaders are doing in this area. For example, Konica Minolta developed a global, long-term environmental plan called Eco Vision 2050. This long-term plan continuously guides the company towards achieving its sustainability mission and consists of three goals—achieving an 80 percent reduction in CO2 emissions, promoting recycling, and working to promote the restoration and preservation of biodiversity.
Another method is to implement a quality management tool, such as the Plan, Do, Check, and Act cycle, suggests Colleen Molkenbur, business planning & marketing manager, Canon U.S.A., Inc. The Plan step involves identifying main goals and targets, setting policies, soliciting engagement and participation from stakeholders, and conducting surveys to gauge the company’s environmental responsibility.
In the Do stage, print providers put the plan into action and report the results back to stakeholders. The Check stage allows company stakeholders and employee plan advocates to work together to analyze the results’ outcomes while evaluating the overall experience and revising policies. The final stage, to Act, is based on output results from the check stage. “Once an organization has met its goals and targets, it now has an opportunity to take its program to the next level and brainstorm a new set of goals and actions to work on achieving in future months,” offers Molkenbur.
Certifications also help print providers establish a plan for environmental sustainability while guiding them to the proper steps. For example, the SGP certification helps printers differentiate their business while also setting in motion actionable steps for implementing a sustainability management system long term. If this is more than the business can take on, Wittenburg suggests starting smaller. Print providers can look into recycling programs, ways to reduce waste and cost, and create more eco-friendly products that will then create a positive impact on customers.
Once a plan is in place, it’s important to promote the business’s eco-friendly initiatives internally and externally. According to Kern, internally includes consistent and clear communications discussing environmental topics that engage employees in the company’s sustainability mission. Externally, communications such as blogs and press releases push the industry to further support green activities and engage customers in the conversation.
Christopher Gibbons, president, American Green Consulting Group, LLC, adds, “no different than perfect binding or foil embossing, salespersons need to buy into eco-friendly initiatives, understand the benefits, and sell it to each customer based on the customer’s specific needs.”
Clients Demand Green Initiatives While many print providers become environmentally friendly for personal goals, there is also increasing demand from print buyers for environmental sustainability.
Awareness and demand of environmental sustainability is extremely prevalent today and engrained in society. Many requests for proposals now require certain environmentally conscious standards just to be considered. “What was once a nice to have component has now become a standard requirement in doing business,” shares Molkenbur.
Demand from clients to be sustainable is particularly strong in the Pacific Northwest, where print providers either need to have an environmental sustainability plan and mentality or risk not being a supplier to many of the retailers in the region, says Wittenberg. In general, all clients expect their suppliers to have plans in place for recycling, environmentally responsible use of media and ink, and waste reduction or elimination.
“Print providers are under a lot of pressure from brand owners and consumers to find sustainable solutions,” agrees Donna Convannon, director, marketing, Xeikon North America. She finds many print providers are looking for a trusted partner who is more than a supplier—fostering a partnership with honest feedback.
Factoring in Cost One of the greatest challenges of implementing an environmental sustainability plan is that it will have an impact on ROI. However, with the proper techniques print providers can turn that impact into a positive ROI.
“Being 100 percent eco-friendly is probably impossible in the printing industry,” admits Convannon. This is due to increased costs as eco-friendly suppliers and logistics are generally more expensive. However, some of these costs will be compensated when printing digitally.
While there may be upfront costs associated with a sustainability plan, Molkenbur believes sustainability has become a must-have strategy for long-term business viability and success. Once implemented, print providers can experience streamlined operations, reduced costs, elimination of wasteful practices, and improve customer and employee engagement.
From Wittenberg’s experience, implementing a sustainable plan has helped HP reduce cost, and as a result, drive a better ROI in longer term. “This is not a quick fix and requires resolve.” In terms of mark-ups, the decision depends on the customers and the market. If customer can bear the mark-up, then it makes sense to implement one. “If they can’t, they’ll let you know very quickly,” he adds.
Go Green Being an eco-friendly print provider is attractive in terms of a company’s own desire to be environmentally conscious, as well as to meet demands from customers. Print providers interested in taking green initiatives can devise a plan based on the company’s goals and current processes.
In part two, we feature a print provider focused on environmental sustainability.
Click here to read part two of this exclusive online series, Safe Practices.